12-6-2010: Gonzalez announced, who’s next?

Adrian Gonzalez was introduced at a press conference this morning, and he gushed all the usual things from a free agent who’s just signed a fat deal: it’s his (second) dream to play here, etc. He seems like a smart player, and knows that he needs to hit the ball in the air to be successful in Fenway. It seems that the Sox have an extension agreement in place with Gonzalez already, and it will likely be announced just after Opening Day. His agent says they’re finding a nice compromise, so I’d expect something along the lines of 6 years with a vesting option worth $130-150M.

Theo Epstein mentioned in his comments that he would like to add a right handed outfielder. But with Jayson Werth signing a massive deal with the Washington Nationals yesterday, the question is who? Carl Crawford, the top free agent outfielder, is left-handed and his signing would arguably tilt the lineup too far to the left, making us vulnerable to strong lefties, like CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee, who could be teammates again next year. Also, we have to be thinking about the future, as players like Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz start earning real money. I’m not sure we can absorb another 6-7 year maxed out deal without letting everyone start walking in a couple of years. So maybe we want to shoot for a short-term option or a second-tier target (after all, we do have Josh Reddick and Ryan Kalish, who look just about Major League ready).

Available free agent outfielders include some interesting past-prime players, like Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Lee and Johnny Damon. Ordonez might still be looking for multiple years, but the other two might be available on a one-year pact. Unfortunately, all are aging and play little to no defense.

One candidate that comes to mind is Josh Willingham (and not just my mind). As a former Marlin and now National, he’s not well known, but he’s a strong right-handed bat with good on-base skills. My median projection for him as a Red Sox is .249/.339/.438 with 17 HR in 410 AB, but he could do better. The Nationals will almost certainly make him available now that they’ve signed Werth to a long-term contract. Willingham’s defense is decidedly worse than Werth’s, but we could live with him in our small left field for a year or three.

I think an intriguing alternative the Sox should look at is signing Russell Martin (2011 Red Sox projection of .256/.351/.387). Jon Heyman claims the Sox have always loved him as a player. Start the season with Martin and Jason Varitek in the big leagues, and let Jarrod Saltalamacchia build his confidence at Pawtucket. After a few months, when Varitek enters his yearly summer swoon, we can bring Salty up and platoon him with Martin (Salty’s split contract for 2011 suggests that kind of plan anyway, unless he forces his way up in Spring Training). That scenario should end up in some pretty good production from the catcher position, and as a right-handed bat, Martin has the added flexibility to play the infield corners and DH against tough lefties. There is plenty of interest in the 26-year old Martin, but that’s money we can afford to spend.

Now that Werth is out of the picture, and Crawford is less attractive, we may have to back down from paying a first rounder to sign Type A free agent Scott Downs. Today’s reported interest in Brian Fuentes and Koji Uehara fits that logic. I like both of those pitchers, though Fuentes is losing effectiveness, and Uehara is an injury risk.

P.S. Poor Adrian Beltre. With the Sox flush at the corners and the Athletics dropping out as suitors, he may not get that megadeal Scott Boras promised him. I feel a little bad for Beltre, but somehow that makes me feel good to know Boras dropped the ball while working hard on his #1 client (Werth).


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